O-Town is, from left, Dan Miller, Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick and Jacob Underwood. (Photo by Mario Barberio)

O-Town is, from left, Dan Miller, Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick and Jacob Underwood. (Photo by Mario Barberio)

How O-Town reunited in the midst of our nostalgia obsession

Six years after the boy band got back together just to see what would happen, they’re still touring.

  • Sunday, December 1, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Some bands get tired of the songs that made them famous. That’s not the case for O-Town.

For the past six years, the band has opened and closed nearly every concert with their two biggest hits, “Liquid Dreams” and “All or Nothing.” Whenever they tried to switch things up, it didn’t feel right.

“Songs like ‘All or Nothing,’ we are indebted to and so grateful. It’s a reason that people have put us on concert bills,” singer Jacob Underwood said in a recent phone interview. “Fans like the new stuff, and they’re excited to keep hearing new music from us … but when we end the show with ‘All or Nothing,’ that’s obviously the biggest response of the night.”

If seeing that title sparks an immediate memory of belting out the power ballad in your car (“Cause I want it all! Or nothing at all …”), then you were probably a teenager around 2000, when O-Town arrived on ABC’s “Making the Band,” one of the earliest reality TV shows.

MTV, which produced the series, assumed that young viewers were still craving boy bands. And they were correct! The show, which assembled the new band (Underwood, Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick, Dan Miller and Ashley Parker Angel) and then chronicled their adventures trying to “make it,” was an immediate hit, and the group’s self-titled debut album went platinum.

Alas, the excitement around a new boy band doesn’t last forever. After a wildly successful start, sales fizzled and the group disbanded a few years later. However, they all kept in touch, and often talked about reuniting. In 2013, they pulled the trigger.

“It got to the point, at the 10-year mark, where everybody was going, ‘We need to do this … we talk about it every year,’” Underwood said. Angel declined to join the reunion, but the other four members were in. They figured they would just see what happened: maybe tour for a summer, have fun singing their old songs and then likely go their separate ways.

Little did they know that our culture would be in the midst of a nostalgia obsession. O-Town signed with a small European label and released a new single, “Skydive” — and were so pleased with the results that they wound up recording an entire new album, “Lines & Circles,” which fueled about three years of touring.

Still not sure if it could continue, the band also launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album — and they wound up with double their fundraising goal. They’ve toured with other late ‘90s and early 2000s nostalgia acts, such as 98 Degrees and Ryan Cabrera.

“I don’t see an end in sight,” said Underwood, who still sounds a bit surprised that their reunion keeps going. “We’ve got to a point where we can all juggle life and family … when we started touring again, we never thought six years later we’d still be doing it.”

The O-Town fan base remains intense — some of their most loyal fans have become friends with each other, and now travel in big groups to multiple shows. Most have been listening since they were kids: Underwood constantly hears from people who were shocked when they learned the true meaning of the, uh, rather PG-13 lyrics to “Liquid Dreams.” They now tell their parents, “You let me sing that song at the top of my lungs?!”

The members of O-Town are also often asked about Angel, who opted out of the reunion. But Underwood said they have been touring for so long in their new iteration — longer than they were together the first time — it almost wouldn’t make sense.

“It would be weird to have him in the band now, we’ve worked in such a unique way over the last six years,” Underwood said. “Of course we still have a soft place in our heart for him.”

In the meantime, the band is grateful for its unique place in pop culture, existing in the rare Venn diagram of 2000s boy bands and 2000s reality TV. “Really, our career has kind of been in reverse: We started big, then were playing nightclubs and worked our way back up.”

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